• The prints featured in this exhibition are all products of the Meiji period (1868–1912), a time of massive cultural and institutional transformation in Japanese culture. The era is characterized by rapid westernization brought about after the opening of Japanese ports in 1854 and the subsequent restoration of the Meiji Emperor in 1868. The process of westernization left its mark on the architectural and physical landscape of the country. It also could be seen in the bold fashions of the day, which included bustle dresses and three-piece suits, adorned with western-style umbrellas and top hats.

    In light of these swift changes, artists and viewers alike poignantly longed for the traditions and perceived stability of the feudal past. The prints on view by artist Yōshū Chikanobu and his peers deploy the bodies of women as powerful signifiers of tradition. Depicted in bright, synthetic and imported dyes, the women stage nostalgia as they play New Year’s games, watch parades, and enjoy the change of seasons in each other’s company. They appeal to the viewer’s sentimentality, while the real lives and pastimes of the women of Meiji were in a state of flux. Outside of the world depicted in these prints, women were routinely required to balance their responsibility to uphold tradition with their active participation in the new labor economy.

    Nostalgic Femininity, together with its companion show, From Flowers to Warriors, in the St. Catherine University Library, questions the role of both nostalgia and gender during this unstable time in Japanese history. How might contemporary anxieties hide within the delicate and ornate beauty of a woman’s kimono? How does the viewer navigate these images—which might look traditional to American eyes—in light of their specific context in modern Japan? These prints explore the ways in which a society tends to pine for the past when threatened by an uncertain future.